The banner culture in Tamil Nadu has claimed yet another life on the Chennai roads. An illegal flex board protruding from the median in a city thoroughfare fell on 22-year-old Subashree riding a two-wheeler and a water tanker coming behind ran over her on Thursday. The flex board was put up by C Jayagopal, an office bearer of the ruling AIADMK, proclaiming his son’s marriage. The Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act, 1959, amended from time to time, bans such flex boards, banners, cut-outs and hoardings.
Notwithstanding the ban, AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, popularised the culture of cut-outs and hoardings, now adopted by politicians across the country including in West Bengal and Maharashtra. The alacrity the police showed in booking the driver of the water tanker was sorely missing in registering a case against Jayagopal. Only after public anger was a case registered against the AIADMK functionary and that too under Section 4 of The Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act for putting up the banner without permission.
The maximum punishment for this is one-year imprisonment. The Madras High Court acted promptly. Within 24 hours of the death of young Subashree, the court directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay an interim grant of Rs 5 lakh to the father of the victim and recover the money from those officials who failed to prevent the illegal flex boards from coming up. The impugned flex board had the pictures of the Chief Minister, Eddapadi Palanasamy, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha. Removing such a flex board with the pictures of the AIADMK trinity from public places is anathema to Tamil Nadu officialdom and the habit cannot be done away with easily.
The Supreme Court on 9 March ordered the Tamil Nadu government to stop defacement of natural landscape with flags and posters of politicians. According to newspaper reports, a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjeev Khanna ordered the Tamil Nadu government to reply within two weeks on the course of action it had taken to end such defacement of nature. “You (TN government) cannot allow the defacement of the entire environment with political slogans and pictures of politicians. This has to stop,” the Chief Justice reportedly told Tamil Nadu’s senior counsel.
Obviously the practice has not stopped. Otherwise Subashree would have been alive now. The Madras High Court was equally unsuccessful in its attempts at stopping the menace. The politicians and their supporters are unmoved. Ordering a blanket ban on banners, cutouts, hoardings and flex boards, Justice S Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court has issued a series of directions to the Chief Secretary. They are observed in the breach.